10 Reasons Why the Mac Mini Is a Worthy iPad Alternative

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-06-16

10 Reasons Why the Mac Mini Is a Worthy iPad Alternative

Earlier this week, Apple released a new Mac Mini. The device comes in two versions, including a $700 model that includes better graphics functionality and a new design. While the device is undoubtedly well-built, it comes without a keyboard, monitor or mouse.

In order to use a Mac Mini, consumers are forced to buy those peripherals before they boot it up. That said, it's not such a big deal. The Mac Mini is mostly designed for the living room where users can plug it into an HDTV. And since it comes with Bluetooth functionality, connecting a wireless keyboard and mouse to use from the couch is quite easy.

But there is more to the Mac Mini than meets the eye. The device might seem like a simple alternative to a Mac, but it's actually a fine alternative to the iPad, as well. Apple's tablet is being marketed as a device for those who want computing functionality in the living room or while they're away from home. Admittedly, the Mac Mini can't quite match the iPad's mobility factor. But for those folks who want to have a computer to use while home, the Mac Mini easily bests the iPad on practically every front.

Here's why:

1. It's cheap

Although the low-end model of the iPad costs less, the Mac Mini is offered at a surprisingly affordable price. For just $699, customers get a fully equipped computer, complete with a 320GB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics and much more. Apple's tablet, especially the versions featuring heftier hard drives, is expensive compared with the Mac Mini. If it's value that consumers are after, it's difficult to go with the iPad over the Mac Mini.

2. It's simple

One of the best aspects of the Mac Mini is that it's designed to be the simple alternative to all the other Macs on the market. In essence, it's a cheap, small box that can be connected to any display. It allows users to surf the Web, check e-mail and perform basic computing tasks. It certainly won't provide the power that other Macs will, but it's not designed for that. The iPad is quite similar to the Mac Mini. The tablet is basically a big iPod Touch. It's not meant to be a MacBook Pro. Realizing that, customers need to choose which simple computer they should buy. Considering the Mac Mini offers more functionality, it seems like the better choice.

3. Mac OS X

Apple's iOS might be appealing to those who need a simple operating system while they're working away from the office, but it pales in comparison to Mac OS X from a productivity perspective. Thanks to Mac OS X, Mac Mini owners can install more programs, have a more robust browsing experience and run Microsoft Office. The iPad is lacking in all those areas. 

4. Bring your own keyboard, display, mouse

Although some might prefer to have a device that comes with a touch screen, others like having the ability to choose how they will interact with a computer. That's precisely why Apple's decision to offer the Mac Mini without a keyboard, display or mouse is so interesting. If folks have a favorite Bluetooth-equipped keyboard and mouse, it will work with the Mac Mini. Plus, the device is designed specifically to be connected to an HDTV. It's not a stretch to say that most consumers would choose a 50-inch plasma to display Web content over a 9.7-inch touch screen.

Mac Mini Delivers Full-Function Desktop Performance


5. Small business alternative

Apple is currently offering two versions of the Mac Mini. The basic PC option is the one most likely to be purchased, but the other model, Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server, could be a fine option for small businesses. The device allows users to run Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server from the Mac Mini, delivering Web storage and, if need be, Web server service. It's more expensive than the standard Mac Mini with a starting price of $999. Admittedly, the iPad would perform a different function than the Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server. But from a purely functional perspective, it's hard to choose the iPad over Apple's new Mac. If companies want a cheap computer, they can find it with the Mac Mini. If they need something to help them back up content or manage their Web site, they can get it with the Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server. It's a win-win. 

6. Flash

Apple has made it abundantly clear that it will not support Flash in iOS. That's certainly the company's prerogative. But it hurts the iPad. Luckily, the Mac Mini doesn't suffer from that problem. Since it runs Mac OS X, the Mac Mini supports Flash. So, the 75 percent of Web videos and 70 percent of online games that the iPad won't support will work on the Mac Mini. If customers are looking for a device to surf the Web and they're choosing between the iPad or the Mac Mini, the latter's Flash support might be enough to give it the edge.

7. The entertainment value is there

A key component in the Mac Mini's value proposition is entertainment. The device isn't meant to be a product that only makes users more productive. It's designed to sit in the entertainment center for those moments when owners want to watch some Web videos, stream Netflix content or download television shows from iTunes. The iPad is also a fine entertainment device. But since it doesn't support Flash, Web video options are limited. And with a 9.7-inch display, it's hard for the iPad to be called a better entertainment device when it's competing against a device that can connect to any HDTV.

8. Apps aren't like desktop software

Although Apple's App Store has over 240,000 applications ranging from productivity apps to games, it doesn't compare to the ability to run complete desktop applications on a computer. Plus, most of the viable applications in Apple's App Store are mobile versions of Websites. Since the Mac Mini delivers a full browsing experience, few folks will find much missing when they opt for Apple's budget computer over the iPad. Apps might be all the craze in the mobile market, but when they're compared to desktop software, they just don't compare. And they never will.

9. Ethernet goes a long way

Since the iPad is designed to be a mobile alternative to computers, the device lacks an Ethernet port. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but considering the Mac Mini offers an Ethernet port, it should get the nod for Web connectivity. Yes, wireless connectivity is getting better, but it doesn't compare to having a wired connection. Trying to load sites or streaming video is far more efficient on a wired connection than a wireless network. That won't be changing anytime soon. So, if consumers are looking for a device that delivers the best Web experience, the Mac Mini is for them.

10. Pop in a disc

One of the major complaints consumers and enterprise customers have with the iPad is that users can't install software via a DVD drive or pop in a CD to listen to music. The issue, according to Apple, is that the iPad is meant to be a lightweight, portable device. A disc drive would have hurt its chances of achieving that. The Mac Mini, on the other hand, features a DVD drive. It might not seem like a major feature, but it makes the device a more legitimate computer. Users can install software from that drive and add tracks from CDs to their iTunes library in just a few minutes. Plus, if the device is connected to an HDTV, the Mac Mini can double as a DVD player.

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